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Edward Cohen

Edward Cohen, composer, performer and senior lecturer in music, died at the age of 61 on April 27, following a long illness.

Trained in classical music, Cohen was inspired by jazz and committed to composing to new music. He composed pieces for everything from solo instruments to orchestras, in addition to two operas. His most recent opera, “The Bridal Night,” premiered in January and was performed by the Collage New Music Ensemble in Boston.

“He was a great musician and a wonderful teacher,” said Professor of Music Ellen Harris, director of the music and theater arts section at MIT.

Cohen lauded for compositions

Cohen received many awards and commissions for his works, from the Massachusetts Council for the Arts, the MIT Council for the Arts, Tanglewood Music Center and Brandeis University. His clarinet quintet was released on the CRI label.

Last year, a 60th birthday concert was held at MIT in Cohen’s honor. The Killian Hall concert drew students and faculty from MIT and Brandeis as well as local musicians and critics. Cohen attended in a wheelchair due to his illness.

Richard Buell reviewed the concert for the Boston Globe. “Forgive the stereotype, but university professors aren’t supposed to compose music like this,” he said. “The piano quartet was a continuation of Shostakovich’s music; the piano sonata, a big-scaled vigorous enterprise.”

MIT career spanned 25 years

Cohen began teaching at MIT in 1977. Students and faculty cited both his generosity and seriousness of purpose when working with Cohen. Dawn Perlner ’01 recalled one occasion where Cohen composed on demand. “I’ll never forget the time Professor Cohen was explaining how to compose a sonata form and someone jokingly challenged him to write one for us on the spot. He improvised it at the piano - it was beautiful and in perfect form,” she said.

Another student, Edward W. Kohler ’95, said, “He was patient and kind. He never skimped on feedback. He treated every piece of work we produced as worthy of respect.”

Cohen was born in New York City in 1940, where he attended the High School of Music and Art. He received a BA with honors in music from Brandeis University in 1961 and an MA in 1965 from the University of California at Berkeley. Before coming to MIT, Cohen taught at Brandeis University for 13 years. He also taught at Harvard.

Cohen is survived by his wife, two daughters, his parents, two brothers, and eight nieces and nephews.

A memorial service is planned for October 20 from 3 to 5 p.m. in the Wong Auditorium. MIT is also establishing the Edward Cohen Fund for New Music. Contributions may be sent to MIT Music and Theater Arts.